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From Death Row to Hero

Tim Brun of the LAFD and his canine partner Duncan.

The odds were stacked against Duncan from the beginning. The young, hyperactive yellow Labrador Retriever was a stray and was placed in the Placer County SPCA. His chances for adoption and finding a permanent home were very slim; however, the staff at the SPCA saw something special in Duncan and thought he’d make an excellent search and rescue dog.

He was referred to the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, which often recruits canines from shelters and trains them to find people buried alive in the wreckage of natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

Duncan became a star student. Not only does he have a loving home, he also has a very important job to do. The yellow Lab was paired with human partner Tim Brun of the Los Angeles Fire Department. He and Duncan are part of an elite team of dogs and handlers who respond to earthquakes, hurricanes, landslides and all manner of disasters around the world. "Duncan's a very special guy," said Brun, who is based at Station 33, north of Los Angeles, one of the busiest in the country. "He and I are a perfect match and I am 100 percent sure that he is going to save someone's life someday."

When Duncan was placed in the Placer shelter, his energy and focus caught the attention of shelter Executive Director Leilani Vierra. She and her staff concluded that his temperament might make him “difficult to manage in a typical household but might make him the perfect rescue dog.” The Search Dog Foundation agreed.

The SDF gives the dog’s intense training and then pairs them with firefighters and other “first responders.” They also ensure the dog’s lifetime care. Once the training is complete, the team is certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and can be dispatched anywhere in the world.

Brun and Duncan continue to train and hone their skills at the fire station, at his home and at constructions sites throughout Southern California. Duncan has been trained to detect “live humans” hidden among the rubble and must learn to ignore distractions such as food, toys or other animals. "He's absolutely amazing," says the firefighter. "He is Superdog in the rubble. He can climb a 60-foot pile and find people. He's like a kid in a candy store out there. When he's at work, he's all business, but at home, he gets lots of loving family time."

"I'm so blessed and grateful that the Placer SPCA saw Duncan's skills," says the handler. "He's the best search dog ever."